46 years ago, in the summer of 1964, Santiago Bernabeu and Miguel Munoz – then the president and coach of Real Madrid respectively – decided to bring the curtain down on Alfredo Di Stefano’s time with the club, terminating the contract of the man voted Los Merengues‘ greatest ever player.
But now, almost half a century later, history looks to be on the verge of repeating itself with the rumoured departure of the club’s foremost icon of the modern era, Raul Gonzalez.
In the last few days it has emerged that Bundesliga club Schalke 04, coached by Felix Magath and last year’s German runners-up, have made an offer for the talismanic striker with a two-year contract worth €6m thought to be on the table. Indeed, discussions between the club and the player are believed to be well advanced and Magath has been quoted by Marca as saying, “I am convinced that Raul will end up playing for Schalke 04 next season”.
Although Raul’s powers have been on the wane for some time now, it is hard to imagine the 33 year-old – the European Cup’s all-time top goalscorer – turning out for any other club. Since his move to Estadio Santiago Bernabeu after the dissolution of the Atletico Madrid youth academy in 1992 Raul has represented Los Blancos with great professionalism and integrity, never engaging in the traditional mud-slinging between his club and the provincial sides, treating all opponents (yes, even Barcelona) with great respect, an attitude that his gained him an almost unparalleled standing in the Spanish game.
Much has changed since Raul joined Madrid all those years ago, the striker currently the only remaining on-field link with La Quinta del Buitre, the era of Butragueno, Michel, Sanchis and the glamorous presidency of Ramon Mendoza. As Phil Ball writes in his excellent book White Storm, Raul is the living symbol of Real Madrid’s greatness, the wholesome embodiment of his team’s rich and relentlessly successful history. In short, Raul is Madridismo.
Throughout his career Raul has continually stressed his loyalty to the white shirt whenever rumours of a move have surfaced, his dedication to the Madrid cause plain for all too see. If the club legend is to move on this summer and make way for yet more of Perez’s new generation of galactico signings, the unfussy, calm and yet serenely clinical forward will go down as one of Los Blancos’ greatest ever players, a Di Stefano for the modern age.
Even for neutrals like myself, it will be desperately sad to see him leave the Bernabeu for the final time should the proposed deal go through, departing Madrid with more of a whimper than the great fanfare he deserves, but his legacy at the club and incredible achievements in the game will last forever.